Just Call Me Leonidas

Leonidas

300 is a pretty significant number for a group of followers. It was the number of Spartans that King Leonidas led into battle against Xerxes and his invading army of soldiers.

It was the number of men with which Gideon defeated the Midianites.

It was the number of witches and wizards in Dumbledore’s Army.

(Okay, maybe not that last one, but no conversation about great armies is complete without mentioning Neville Longbottom rallying the troops for the Battle of Hogwarts.)

Neville

This week, my blog reached 300 followers, and I am so thankful for all of you, but especially those who have read, commented and encouraged me along the way. Bitter Ben, IB, Ally, Mrs. Spike, J and so many more… thanks for your frequent likes and comments!

As a way of saying thanks, let’s do a roll call! Fill out the poll below, and leave a comment answering: What would you do with an extra $300 this month? Buy 300 chocolate bars, 2 pairs of Kendra earrings, a new iPad… the possibilities are endless!

QueenGorgo

“Send our army for hope – hope that a King and his men have not been wasted to the pages of history – that their courage bonds us together, that we are made stronger by their actions, and that your choices today reflect their bravery.” -Queen Gorgo, 300

Authentically Aurora

Of Planks and Pushups

We’re now nearly to the end of February, and I can still honestly say that I’ve worked out every day this year [insert mental image of shocked faces, including mine]!

Most of my work outs have been pretty basic, doing 30 minute yoga exercises or running a mile or two here and there. But even with those simplistic I’m-just-trying-to-create-a-habit work outs, I can already see some exciting changes!

Here are three things I can do now that I could not do at the start of the year:

  1. Chest Push-UpsPush up
  2. Triceps Push-UpsTricep push up
  3. Side PlankSidePlankPose

A part of me is embarrassed to even admit there was a time I could not do these things, but hey – judge me if you must. I can’t help that God made me busty with ridiculously tiny wrists. I was a soccer player, not a discus thrower. But I’m working on it.

Most of the exercises I’ve done this year have been shoulder and wrist strengthening exercises, and I am (finally!) starting to reap the benefits of my discipline to keep at it, silly though I may feel when I look out the window from my yoga mat to see hardcore Crossfitters puking on the sidewalk outside. I was one of them, once upon a time (a Crossfitter, not a puker. I like to keep my food inside my stomach, thank you very much. But I digress).

One of the neat things about deciding to be disciplined in working out is that it teaches our psyches the very important life lesson of valuing perseverance; of sacrificing in the near term in order to benefit in the long term. We all know this in our heads, but sometimes it takes living it out to really believe that our discipline is worthwhile, whether it is persevering in exercise, scripture reading, relationships, folding that fifth load of laundry, finishing that kale salad, scrubbing every inch of your kitchen floor after you spill orange juice on it… or any manner of other situations.

Things that are worthwhile rarely come easily, and things that come easily are rarely worthwhile. So we persevere and strive to live above the common level of life. We were made for more than mediocrity. And kale salad.

Authentically Aurora

Sweet ’16

2016 Words2016 is going to be a sweet year. 2014 was the worst year of my life, 2015 was a year of recovery, and 2016 is going to be fantastic. I just know it.

I feel like God has given me four words for 2016: Discipline, Contentment, Light and Joy. Each of these words has come up repeatedly, either in conversations with friends, family, reading Scripture, prayer or even interactions with you, fellow bloggers.

Discipline is pretty straight-forward. I allowed myself to wallow and drift a bit in 2015, giving myself a lot more leeway because I was practicing extending grace to myself and receiving it from others. But it’s possible for that pendulum to swing too far, so it’s time to bring it back and show some self-control and accountability for my actions.

Every time the bible tells us to stop one thing, it tells us to do something else. Every time we are asked to give something up, we are promised something else. There is never a list of don’ts without a list of dos. In that vein, I want to speak less and listen more; make less statements and ask more questions. I need to rein in my tongue and practice using a filter. Cutting back on my love life, I plan to go on less dates and spend more time with friends and family. I want to eat less sugar and more vegetables. And I am going to watch less Netflix and do more exercise.

Contentment is a word J at Salvageable has spoken over me several times in the past month. And I know that the Apostle Paul set forth the example to be content in all circumstances. We are to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. Ugh. What a challenge for a shriveled, bitter heart like mine! But God continues to extend more and more grace to me.

One of the greatest sources of discontentment for me is my singleness. Not so much my singleness, actually, as my loneliness. I am profoundly lonely. I just long for a companion to share life with. But in the past week, in two back-to-back dinners, two of my married girlfriends have shared with me that their marriages are on the rocks and admitted longing for their days of singleness. Two other friends’ marriages were wrecked by affairs earlier this year. I’m only 28 years old, and already I’m seeing friends’ marriages torn apart?! I need to keep in perspective that singleness isn’t all that bad when compared to a difficult marriage. As one of my negotiating instructors once said, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

Light is a special word to me that I sense God repeatedly speaking into my prayer life. All of the bible verses I’m clinging to right now have to do with light. “If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” -Luke 11:36

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called” (Eph. 1:18), and “Once you were full of darkness, but now you have the light of the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:8-9).

“Live clean, innocent lives… shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Phil. 2:12-15). This is what I want for myself in 2016. 

Lastly, Joy. I have always struggled to have joy. Once time I did a word study on how the bible says to have joy, and I think most of the verses talked about trusting God. When we truly believe that God is sovereign and in control – and that He is good and loving! – we are able to accept our circumstances with joy, trusting that God is working in and through us.

There are also lots of verses about being thankful in all circumstances and offering a sacrifice of praise (and believe me, it is often quite a sacrifice!). Cultivating gratitude and releasing control of my life are going to be key in accepting the joy I believe God wants to develop in me this year. “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him.” -Romans 15:13

Yes, Lord. May this be the year of Joy.

Authentically Aurora

Starlight Blogger Award

Starlight Blogger Award 05/30/2015

Bitter Ben just nominated me for the Starlight Blogger Award, which is ironic, considering this award was created specifically to “celebrate the creative bloggers who have truly inspired… others through their beautiful and original content, imagery, art, abilities, and wonderful personalities.”

Wonderful personalities? Ha! Oh, Bitter Ben, you are funny…

This award is to “honor those individuals who are considered ‘the light emanating from the stars’“, and recipients are those who bring “light into your soul with their creativity“.

Don’t get me wrong. Bitter Ben inspires me all the time with his creativity. I just don’t know that his beautiful and original content would necessarily be described as bringing light into my soul. I get more of a mental image of Emperor Palpatine from Bitter Ben’s creations. And I say that in the most affectionate way possible, especially considering that Palpatine is a fellow INTJ. ❤

EMPEROR PALPATINE

Anyway, thanks, Bitter Ben. It is my honor and privilege to warm your bitter heart and occasionally give you a case of THE FEELS. After all, I’m a girl who likes a challenge. 😉

Now. Here are the rules (which, like Bitter Ben, I will not follow because I am a rebel, and the bitterness flows through me).

  1. Thank the person who nominated you. I mean, I know I already thanked you up there, but not thank you, Bitter Ben. How am I supposed to let the bitterness flow through me when you’re calling me all inspirational and light-giving and stuff?
  2. Answer three questions (more to come on this).
  3. Nominate 6 other people. I, being a rule breaker, will nominate 3: J at Salvageable, Paul over at his blog Captain’s Speech, and Ally of My Little Piece of Quiet.

Here are my answers to Bitter Ben’s questions:

1. If you had only 24 hours to live, what would you do on your last day?

I was going to be humorous in my answer to this, but then I realized that I’ve already thought about this question, and my answer is pretty heavy. So brace yourselves.

If I knew I was going to die in 24 hours, I would go into action, telling all the people in my life more freely and openly about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and why I believe faith and trust in Him is the only way into a right relationship with God and eternal salvation.

If I truly believe what I profess to believe – that the reason I am here on earth; my purpose; my very identity is all wrapped up in who God is and who I am in relation to Him – there is no other way I could spent my last 24 hours on this earth.

2. What is your favorite hiding place? Or what would you like to be your favorite hiding place?

I spent a lot of time hiding in my closet. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. When I need to think or pray or be alone and hide away from the world, I go sit on a little step stool in my closet. Since I live alone, this doesn’t necessarily  make much sense, but it’s comforting to me to sit alone in the dark. Remember, I’m an INTJ like Emperor Palpatine.

3. If you had the brains and ability to create an invention what would the invention be and how would you use it?

A teleportation device, duh. Best invention ever…. especially if your city has the kind of traffic that mine does!

Nominees, your questions to answer are:

  1. What is your favorite holiday tradition and why?
  2. What is the most difficult topic that you write about and why?
  3. What is the reason you write?

Now go forth and be inspirational!

Authentically Aurora

So. Much. Chocolate.

AuroraThe best part about ranking Houston’s best chocolate croissants? The requirement to eat said croissants. Or so I thought before consuming my fifth buttery, chocolate-filled pastry in a much-too-short three hour timeframe.

Ashley and I were recently in Houston, dubbed the “Fattest City in America” in 2001, 2002, 2003 and, more recently, 2012 by Men’s Health Magazine. So what did we do to celebrate our time in this city of obesity? We decided to research coffee shops claiming Houston’s best chocolate croissants and rank them for ourselves.

Ashley and I had ten coffee shops on our list. After our third stop, we realized that we had been far too ambitious in anticipating that we would be capable of eating ten croissants in one morning. Or even in one full day. Or over the course of an entire weekend.

In fact, I’m not quite sure how I’m typing this right now. I think I should be in a sugar and calorie-induced coma for the next month. Chocolate-filled croissants were not created to be consumed in such large quantities. I now realize that chocolate croissants are kind of like alcohol; for every one you eat, you need to drink a glass of water to help filtrate your system and prevent hangover. Sugar hangover.

Having never actually had a hangover myself, I’m not entirely sure what it feels like, but I imagine it’s sort of like what I’m experiencing right now: a lethargy and delirium that has me wondering if I will ever eat again. Or stand again. Or fit in my pants again. Or even desire to ever put on pants again, because that would require moving.

Good thing we only ate five and not the originally planned ten chocolate croissants. Or else  we MIGHT BE DEAD. In any case, so that you lovely readers don’t have to suffer as Ashley and I suffered, here is our review of the Top Five Chocolate Croissants in Houston:

5. Common Bond

image_2Earlier this year, Houston Eater named Common Bond one of the up-and-coming coffee shops of the city’s hip “inner loop”. So Ashley and I had high hopes for their chocolate croissants – especially when we saw that they were roughly the size of a small house cat. Seriously. These things are gigantic.

Unfortunately upon tasting, I found my croissant to be dry and brittle, and – although it looked beautifully golden brown – on the whole, the pastry tasted decidedly burnt. It also was not filled with enough chocolate to make up for the seemingly endless mass of breading. It would seem Common Bond emphasizes quantity to make up for their lack of quality.

4. Boomtown Coffee

image_6Although Boomtown is unquestionably the best hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Houston (their Milk & Honey is the best latte I’ve ever had in my life), sadly, they need to stick to making coffee and leave pastry-making to the cafes in the top three.

The croissant texture was perfect – soft and flaky – but it was too buttery and had an unfortunate artificial taste. The chocolate had tinges of something akin to sickly sweet raspberry flavoring that was both unexpected and unwelcome. As amazing as Boomtown’s coffee is, I was disappointed at their pastry showing.

3. Croissant Brioche

image_3None of my Houston friends had heard of Croissant Brioche, but it actually had decent chocolate croissants. The chocolate was warm and melty, and the pastry had not one but two rows of chocolate inside, so the ratio of croissant to chocolate was perfect… except that it wasn’t really a croissant. It was more like a chocolate-filled kolache, but it was the best damn chocolate-filled kolache I’ve ever had.

Side note: Kind of ironic that the one place with “croissant” in the name didn’t actually serve croissants…

2. Revival Market

image_5This little gem of a cafe used to be a marketplace for local farmers and artisans to sell their wares, but Revival Market has since grown into a full-fledged cafe with seating and a farm-to-table menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Their chocolate croissants were certainly fresh. The bread was deliciously warm and flaky, and the Revival Market croissants definitely had the most chocolate. Unfortunately, some of the chocolate that had oozed out the side was hard and burnt, and even the warm, gooey chocolate on the inside tasted like Nestles chocolate chips. Additionally, much of the chocolate had settled to the bottom of the croissant, making for a sub-par distribution throughout. Nevertheless, Revival Market’s chocolate croissants came in second place.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 9.36.50 PM1. French Riviera

Amazing. Simply Amazing.

French Riviera‘s chocolate croissants are everything a chocolate croissant should be: warm, flaky, and chocolatey. I wish all five of my chocolate croissants had been from French Riviera because theirs was absolute perfection. Also, theirs alone was worth every one of the 300 calories of butter and chocolatey goodness.

Let’s not do that math.

Authentically Aurora

Stuff it, Team Happy

April LudgateI wrestle with depression. Not only does this dysfunctional brain chemistry run in my family, but life has handed me some tough rounds over the past few years.

Notice that I chose the words “I wrestle with depression” and not “I suffer from depression.” I am struggling against it. I think being depressed is about as fun as being force-fed horse droppings while hanging upside down in freezing rain. I don’t want to be this way. I am not choosing to sit idly by while depression devours my joy. So I’d appreciate it if Team Happy would cut me some slack.

Some individuals are better equipped than others to sit with people in their sadness. If I open up to someone and their first response is any variation of “There are people much worse off than you,” I am immediately clued in to the fact that they are not emotionally equipped to understand depression. They might be someday, once they have experienced some traumatic loss of their own, but when I’m struggling to maintain an even keel of my own emotions, I don’t also have the emotional energy to help others learn how to deal with me.

Depression can bring with it a component of feeling trapped in your own head and at war with yourself, which can be perceived as a form of self-centeredness, causing the uninitiated to the Dark Night of the Soul to respond with comments like, “Why don’t you just fix your attitude?” Yes, I’ll get right on that. Go-go-gadget-attitude-fixer! What? I’m still depressed? Darn!

I have been accused of being overly self-oriented, but this trite response to my emotional seclusion belittles feelings that I do not know how to control or manage. Comments like this make me feel badly about feeling badly. So stuff it, Team Happy. I already feel badly about feeling badly without your condescension.

Often when people are uncomfortable, they throw out platitudes like, “Just stay positive!” (with the implied accusation that I am failing miserably at something that comes naturally to them). It always amazes me when Team Happy tells me, as if it had never occurred to me before, to “Just smile!” Platitudes don’t cure depression. They trivialize depression.

Here are my Top 10 Favorite (least favorite) Platitudes for all my fellow depressed homies out there:

  1. Fix your attitude.
  2. Happiness is a choice.
  3. It’s all in your head. You’re as happy as you make up your mind to be.
  4. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
  5. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  6. I think you want to feel this way.
  7. Cheer up! It’s a beautiful day! Go out and have some fun!
  8. When you’re down on yourself, you’re not much fun to be around.
  9. You have so many things to be thankful for. Why are you depressed?
  10. You can make the choice for or against depression; it’s all in your hands.

Here’s to making the choice not to strangle the next person who tells me to make the choice to be happy.

Authentically Aurora

One Year Later…

Til Death Do Us PartToday marks the One Year Anniversary of the day I said, “Yes!” to the man who would eventually say “no…”, breaking off our engagement a few months later.

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. I finally agree with that, but not because I got to have the experience of loving someone. I think it’s “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” because of the lessons learned as a part of the grieving process.

Like, for instance, that God is merciful. And that sometimes the best blessing He can give you is a prayer answered with, “No. Because I love you.”

Although my ex is the one who called off our engagement, here are Five Quotes from our tumultuous engagement period that remind me, one year after the implosion that was our disastrous relationship, that I am the one who escaped from what would have been a very unhappy, very unhealthy marriage.

5. Him: “I want to marry a more emotional woman.”

More emotional

4. Me: “I feel like I’m having to choose between pleasing God and pleasing you.”

Choose between

3. Him: “You’re so Type A, I think you’d drive me to have an affair if we got married.”

Thanks

2. Him: “My sister feels like I’m replacing her in my life with you, so we should push back the wedding until she feels more comfortable.”

Wife v Sister

1. Him: “I’m afraid we would have too much sex if we got married.”

Too much

Bullet?        Dodged. 

Authentically Aurora